PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Divisional Playoff at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sunday
1.Talk mattered.That's the first thought – and that was oh-so clear following the Jaguars' 45-42 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in an AFC Divisional Playoff Sunday. The Steelers talked all week about playing the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday – and Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell tweeted about playing the Patriots following New England's Divisional Playoff victory over the Tennessee Titans Saturday. That didn't happen because the Jaguars didn't allow it to happen – and Jaguars players to a man afterward the Steelers' pre-game talk was motivation. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson talked about a lack of respect, and defensive players echoed that thought everywhere around the locker room. The Jaguars were confident entering the game; they had, after all, won in Pittsburgh by 21 points in October. Did it bother them that no one thought they could do it again? Absolutely, and they showed the world on Sunday that for the Jaguars this season beating the Steelers was no upset.
Images form the AFC Divisional Round as the Jaguars travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.
2.Blake Bortles deserves credit – and a break from his critics.This could be about the entire Jaguars offense. The league-wide criticism of Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has been deafening at times this season – and it continued after his 87-yard passing performance in the Jaguars' Wild Card playoff victory over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday. The Jaguars' offense and Bortles had struggled in a big way in the last two games. They didn't struggle on Sunday – and far from it. Bortles and the offense answered adversity again and again in a wild second half Sunday, and Bortles' 14-of-26 passing performance for 214 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions was a major reason for this victory Sunday. Bortles is now 2-0 as a postseason quarterback, and he beat a two-time Super Bowl champion on the road on Sunday. That may not earn him respect, but maybe it will silence his doubts. For a while, anyway.
3.Defense, defense, defense.The Jaguars' defense wasn't perfect Sunday, but it's hard to be perfect against an offense as potent and talented as that of the Steelers. The Jaguars gave up some big plays, including five touchdowns to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But an interception by linebacker Myles Jack set up a first-quarter touchdown and linebacker Telvin Smith's 50-yard fumble return marked the Jaguars' eighth defensive touchdown of the season. Whatever the Jaguars' defense didn't do on some plays, their aggressiveness and ability to score and set up scores was the difference for this team Sunday. The Jaguars' defense also sacked Roethlisberger twice. Yes, Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards – and no, the Jaguars' defense won't be thrilled with this performance. Really, this was more a team victory than a defensive one. But don't discount the Jaguars' ability to make plays defensively as a reason the Jaguars are playing in the AFC Championship Game.
- Blake Bortles is the star of the game no matter what the numbers said. From the opening drive when he marched the offense down the field for a 7-0 lead, to the fourth quarter throw to Keelan Cole which helped set the margin at 14 late in the ball game, Bortles was up to the challenge. Just like last week when he ran for 88 yards to power the Jags to a Wild Card win, this week he did everything he needed to do, AND when it most needed to get done. He was magnificent, and money, and up for whatever the moment called for. It was—he was—remarkable and on a day when Roethlisberger also was, he was better.
- There will be a hue and cry and gnashing of teeth about Roethlisberger's yards and touchdowns and it will be loudest in the defensive meeting room. Before we go down that road, however, let's recall that Ben, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell are all MVP candidates, playing at home after three weeks of rest and hadn't forgotten or been allowed to forget their October loss to the Jaguars. They also set up one touchdown with an interception, and as the Steelers were driving in the second quarter forced a fumble and scored their eighth defensive touchdown of the year. I get that allowing big plays is alarming, but when the game was at its most tense moment on 4th and short with 12 minutes to play they came up with a stop that powered the drive which made it 42-28. They played better than the numbers will say they played; they played above the x's and o's today.
- Le'Veon Bell is the new Woody Paige. His ill-advised tweet about rematches and getting one on Sunday against the Jaguars and next Sunday, presumably against the Patriots, touched a nerve—a very raw nerve. Calais Campbell, Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue and A.J. Bouye's eyes burned when asked about it in the post-game locker room. Much like Paige's infamous 'JagWads' column in the Denver Post on January 4, 1997 created a blaze in that Jaguars locker room, the Bell tweet did the same in this Jags locker room. Thanks Le'Veon!